(Image: Chief of Kyochom village switches on the solar lantern.)

The Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) initiative has reached to West Africa with the successful implementation of solar charging stations (SCS) and solar mobile charging facility at Kyochomv village in Samu Chiefdom, Kambia District in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world with less than 10% of the population having access to electricity. The project, supported by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India (under its International Cooperation Programme ) and facilitated by UNIDO to foster South-South cooperation and transfer of technical know-how from India, is expected to contribute to the promotion of decentralized solar PV applications for energy access enhancement in the country.

The first charging station is setup at the main health centre building and the second one at the community centre. These centres are centrally located in the village to make it convenient for the users to come on a daily basis. In addition, one solar mobile phone charging facility has been set up to meet the needs of the community to charge their mobile phones.

While MNRE’s support was utilized to supply the solar PV equipment, lanterns, and mobile phone charging systems, training and capacity building of local stakeholders, UNIDO facilitated the implementation of the project through local coordination in the setting up of systems. UNIDO will also monitor the project for effective operation and management. The successful implementation of this project will provide a lot of opportunities nationally for setting up similar projects throughout the country.

In order to sustain the charging stations, TERI also provided technical training on the installation, operation and maintenance of the solar PV systems, lanterns and mobile phone charging system to local technicians during and after the installations. The training included trouble shooting for minor problems such as replacing fuses, circuit boards and bulbs. This training is essential for developing local technical support, which can also help make the project sustainable.

Training was also provided to the users on the handling and operation of the solar lanterns. Earlier, TERI had organized a comprehensive training session in New Delhi during August 2011, for a four member delegation from Sierra Leone, on the installation, operation and maintenance of various-components of solar lanterns, junction boxes and other parts, comprising a SCS. The team also visited the facility of LaBL Product Partner, Gautam Polymers, to familiarize themselves with the solar lantern manufacturing processes and also undertook a field visit to a LabL village in Meerut district, Uttar Pradesh in India to gain first-hand experience of installing and functioning of the SCS.